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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Lassa fever – Signs, Symptoms, and How to Prevent the Mouse Transmitted Disease

I remember vividly when I was a little boy; we used to play with house hold mice and even went as far as keeping one as a pet in the house! But as at this very moment, it is almost a taboo to even see a rat and let it live, let alone play with it. The world is changing fast and diseases are fast spreading, and even developing new resistances. The case of Lassa fever is a case in point in which every mouse has become a deadly suspect. Lassa fever is spread by the species of mouse known as the Natal multimammate mouse which is prevalent in most parts of West Africa.
The disease Lassa fever belongs to the group of Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs); the ultramicroscopic infectious agent causing the disease belongs to the virus family known as Arenaviridae, it is also a single-stranded RNA virus and is zoonotic or animal-borne in nature.
The multimammate rats
Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers are usually caused by four families of viruses such as – the Ebola, Marburg, Lassa and Yellow fever viruses. Some of the many common features of VHFs include the fact that they affect many body organs, inflict damage on the blood vessels; they also affect the body’s ability to regulate itself. Thus after about an incubation period of between 1 week and 3 weeks an acute illness involving a multiple set of organs erupts; organs such as the kidney, liver, and the spleen are usually affected in the process.
The victims are affected when exposed to contaminants through the respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts, while the infection can also be transferred from person to person through direct contact with an infected person. For this all important reason healthcare workers and caregivers alike are advised to be extremely cautious while handling infected persons, etc. The signs and symptoms of Lassa fever are so many, and most at times are not very specific as they tend to mimic so many well known symptoms of various other ailments.
Symptoms: Meanwhile some non-specific symptoms common with Lassa fever may include: persistent high fever, low blood pressure, swelling of the face, muscle fatigue, conjunctivitis and mucosal bleeding. Other notable signs are such as - bleeding through the anus, nose and, or mouth; breathing difficulty, vomiting, sore throat, chest pain as well as back pain, and pain in the stomach region may also be experienced by the patient.
According to experts however, as at the moment there is no available human vaccine for Lassa fever, and in fact the only available drug for treatment - ribavirin must be administered within the first 6 days after the onset of the disease for effective remedy. Lassa fever is a haemorrhagic illness in that the victim is caused to bleed or lose blood in one way or the other; the disease is transmitted to humans through contacts with food or household items that are contaminated by the waste products of the rat such as - excreta or urine of the animals. The disease is known to affect an average of between 300,000 and 500,000 people with about 500 deaths recorded annually in the West African sub region.
Dealing with Lassa fever epidemic
Prevention: Experts advise that you make sure rodents are prevented from coming into your rooms; they must be kept out of the reach of your foods and foodstuffs, drinks and every of your household items. It is true that not every rodent is carrying the virus but you must keep a safe distance from them at such times when there is an epidemic because they are the major known transmitters or carriers of the disease virus.
Sometimes it is common place to find bits of rat excreta in your grains and you may not be able to notice it, and this is the reason experts will advice that you must ensure your foods are sealed off from the rats. Also, when cooking, you should make sure they are properly cooked before eating just to be on the safe side. It cannot be overemphasised that you store your grains in rodent-proof containers if you live in Lassa fever endemic regions. This is also perhaps the best time for Nigerians to put a halt to the ‘drinking of garri’ so you do not make the mistake of swallowing ‘raw’ infected rat excrement that may be infected with the virus.
According to Razak Adeofalade - the Chairman of the Medical and Health Workers Union, Lagos State Council, “We are going to encourage members of the public to depart from the process of drinking garri at this moment, it is better that the cassava flour is utilised for `eba,’ because of the use of hot water.” He also added that “We will also be telling them to ensure that their fruits and raw vegetables are properly washed if they must be consumed raw, and cook to the appropriate temperature.”
There are in addition other preventive measures you must ensure to make a habit of; these measures are such as - maintaining a good personal hygiene including regular washing of hands with soap and water. You should properly dispose of your refuse – containerised and placed far away from the living apartment.

All suspected patients of Lassa fever should be given immediate medical attention and kept away from the rest of the people while their excrement (urine and faeces) are carefully and properly disposed of. If death occurs, the body must not be handled by non medical workers; you should rather inform your local health authorities who are better equipped to handle and bury the body because of its high potential health risk.